Birth of a cynic – Part 3

After the tv station debacle, I moved back to Texas. I worked as an admin, saved up my money, and moved to California. Too timid to try to work in Hollywood, I took a job as a temp which led me to my current job working in employee benefits (aka, an insurance broker). My first eight years, I was an admin, and had told myself I never wanted more because I didn’t want insurance to become my life. But when I had my fill of being the low man on the totem pole, the under-appreciated, lowest paid, most abused person on the team (not even considered a member of the team by the big bank that bought us), I sought a promotion. I’ve been working with my co-workers for 12 1/2 years now, and my position with them is fairly secure. That wasn’t always the case, thanks in large part to Almond Joy.

I started my job in August of 2000. In July of 2001, my boss hired a new account manager, and she would change my life profoundly. By then, I had learned the hard way that people will lie like they breathe if it suits them, but was still willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, as I gave Almond Joy when she first joined my team. But the lessons Lee and Chuck had taught me had heightened my bullshit detector, and it went off after a month or so with Joy. We bonded at first, because we shared the same history of sexual abuse and sense of humor. We were two peas in a pod. At the time, I was very close friends with my co-worker, Mary, a woman old enough to be my mother, but a dear friend who lived just on the other side of LAX from me. We’d leave work every Friday and go to a local hangout near her condo for dinner and drinks and to listen to the live band that I would one day hire to play at my wedding.

Occasionally, we’d invite our co-worker, Jen, to tag along. The three of us would laugh and talk and drink all night. It was great. Then Almond Joy asked to join us. That night, I became invisible. I had never seen someone so confident, so outgoing. She flirted with every guy, and they flirted back, to the chagrin of their dates, if they had them. After she and Jen left, I cried to Mary. Joy had dominated the night, and I had barely had a chance to speak. It was the Almond Joy show, and I did not enjoy it. Mary figuratively patted me on the head. “Oh, little one, don’t you be fooled. That’s not confidence at work, that’s extremely low self-esteem at play. Someone who is truly confident doesn’t need to be the center of attention at all times”. Mary had her number, but it was too late for me.

I started to notice the same patterns I had seen in Lee. Joy would tell a story to a co-worker about something that had happened when we were together, but she’d spin it to make herself the heroine or the victim, whichever one worked best. By the time 9/11 came around, I knew the drill. I heard about the attack in my car on the way to work. When I got to the office, everyone was mulling around the tv in a state of shock. I sat at my desk crying when Joy walked in. I remember thinking, “how long will it take her to make this about her?” She asked what was happening, and we told her. Sure enough, within five minutes, she caused a scene. Her father was on one of the planes, she cried. Our co-worker, Martha, stood on one side of her and I on another, rubbing her back and comforting her. Martha bought it full bore, but I knew better. I calmly told her to call him on his cell phone. Sure enough, he picked up. He was fine, and nowhere near New York.

I came to feel trapped. We had gotten so close, so quickly, and she sat five feet from my desk. If I had had my choice, I would have run from her, but that couldn’t happen. I slowly started to withdraw from her outside of work, and made sure we saw each other as little as possible after 5pm. What was the worst, however, was her interactions with our co-workers. By then I had learned, if someone is willing to speak poorly behind someone else’s back to you, then more than likely, that person is speaking ill of you behind your back, too. She tried to talk smack about me to Mary once, but Mary shut her down and told me about it. Joy then tried to convince me Mary was unhappy with me about something. The truth came out, and Joy didn’t try to use Mary against me again. Once she realized Mary had her number, she backed off, though others in the office bought into her stories, about me and her past (she slept with Wesley Snipes, Chris Noth and Chris Tucker hit on her!) She painted a picture of me to others that left me uneasy. I became more defensive.

I tried to take the high road. I didn’t think it was my place to try to warn anyone about Joy’s lies. I figured they’d figure it out for themselves. So I kept my mouth shut. Because Joy admired one of our supervisors, a woman who had worked her way up to the executive level from the receptionist’s desk, Joy’s behavior with her was different. Joy sat at this woman’s feet, wanting to become more like her. With our supervisor, she was a protege, with me, she was competition. I had never been a competitive person, and certainly didn’t think you competed with friends. But that’s not how Joy saw it.

If we went to a team lunch for admin day, she’d end it by stating she was very ill and had to go to the emergency room. She didn’t, of course, but her hysterics were enough to pull the focus off me. That was the first admin day I spent with her. The next year, my team didn’t take me out or acknowledge it because she had told them I didn’t celebrate admin day. After this deception came to light, my boss apologized profusely. Joy claimed it was an honest mistake.

When I hurt my back and was told I had a ruptured disk, she proclaimed that she had had that, too, and that she, in fact, had a disk removed. Apparently, this procedure left her with absolutely no physical impairment…not even a scar. When I was told I had PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), she declared she had it too, and told me not to worry about my impending surgery to remove some cysts, as she’d undergone the surgery herself. I should have asked her for her surgeon’s name since, again, there were no scars. And, yes, I would see them. More on that later. If I had a headache, she had a brain tumor. I think at last count, she had had four “cancer scares”. At the same time she was actively competing with me, subverting my relationships with other people, she’d also become jealous if I showed a preference for the company of someone else. On the day an ambulance had to come to take me to the hospital, I was on the floor, unable to stand or walk due to my back injury. I reached for my cell phone and called our co-worker, Cat, for help. When Joy found out I had called Cat and not her, she was visibly upset and made a scene, even as I was being carted off on a stretcher to enjoy a morphine drip.

Still, I said nothing. Then, something happened that made me realize…I was in Fight Club.

My office had hired an independent contractor to work on a special project. Her name was Marcie. Marcie was fun and hit it off with everyone. I don’t remember how it came up, but Marcie, Joy and I agreed to go to Hollywood for drinks. We went to bar after bar, but after a while, Joy started to feel sick. She ended up insisting we take her to the ER. There, with me in the room at her insistence, she was stripped down to her waist and her heart monitored. She swore it was beating so hard, it would burst out of her chest at any minute. She told the disbelieving doctor she had been slipped a drug in one of her drinks, and just knew she was going to die. When she spoke of having a heart attack, the doctor looked up at the heart monitor, observed it’s perfectly normal pace, then looked back at me with a “you’ve got to be kidding me” expression. After she passed out, I stepped out of the room. The doctor assured me, she was just drunk, and that I could take her home when she woke up. I went out to the waiting room to talk to Marcie. She sat there, her face buried in her hand. The good time was definitely over.

After we drove Joy home, the silence was broken. Marcie had seen all the things I had seen about Joy, but she, too, didn’t think it was her place to warn anyone and didn’t want it to seem like she was trash-talking.

The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club.

I wondered who else saw through the act. The following Monday I came into work and was astonished to witness Joy telling EVERYONE what had happened, even the head of our office. She insisted the doctor had found traces of the date rape drug in her stomach when she supposedly went into urgent care on Sunday. She stated a gay bartender had drugged her for fun. She told of her drunken, topless exploits with pride.

Eventually, I left that team. She professed undying love for some man she met on the internet and moved out of town. I chose to believe it was true love, because that meant she’d be gone. Others didn’t. They knew she fell “madly in love” at least three times a year, only to have that person turn out to be “a real jerk” (read: onto her crap). Sure enough, she moved back. Her job had been filled, but there was a position open on the team I was now on. I cringed. By then, however, most were on to her. The supervisor Joy had so admired spoke candidly with my boss. Joy was good with the clients, she said, but brought a lot of drama to the team. My boss had no patience for drama, but asked me my opinion. I, too, spoke candidly, and said I would not work on the same team with her again. The drama was too much for me, too. My boss declined to hire her. My former supervisor, now a team leader, was forced to hire her back for fear that she’d sign with another broker and poach our clients. As I was walking past my former supervisor’s office one day, she pulled me in. She told me she had been forced to take Joy back and wasn’t happy about it, and told me she didn’t want any drama when Joy came back. I told her not to worry about me, for I was never the source of the drama. I left her office with the sad understanding that Joy’s damage to my reputation was still in effect.

Joy came back and worked there for another couple of years. Eventually, the bloom was completely off the rose, and she left. No one in the office had any more delusions about who or what she was. It took about 9 years, but people finally figured out, while I am far from perfect, I am not and never was the person she made me out to be.

By that time, however, the damage was done. Since Joy, I no longer give people the benefit of the doubt. I tend to believe people are deceiving me or manipulating me right from the get-go. I’ve gotten better about it, but it still bothers me. I don’t want to be so distrustful.

I used to have a handful of friends, but over the years, they’ve all vanished.

My best friend in high school came to visit me when I was in college. Her two week visit became permanent when she got a job at the local pizza parlor. She fell in love with her boss, much to the chagrin of his wife, and moved in with him. The wife filed for divorce and moved their three children back to Minnesota. The husband couldn’t bear the thought of life without his kids, so he moved, too. While my friend waited for him to send for her, she slept on my couch. The day I took her to the airport to fly to her now-divorced lover’s arms was the last time I saw her. We spoke a few times after that, always at my initiation. I fussed at her once about her lack of communication. She chastised me in return for not being understanding about her lover’s brother’s suicide, for that was the reason she hadn’t called. Months went by. When Josh committed suicide, I called her. She didn’t have much to say. Months went by. Again, I called her. To my disbelief, she excitedly told me she wanted me to make plans to come to Minnesota…we had to go shopping for my maid of honor dress! I was stunned. She had virtually vanished from my life, never called me, and completely abandoned me during the worst time in my life, yet she still had the gall to expect me to stand up for her during the best time in hers? I told her to find someone else, and we haven’t spoken in 16 years.

Another good friend of mine is my adopted brother. His father died several months before I got married. He used that as his reason for not attending my wedding. The morning after my wedding, my mother announced that he had found buyers for his father’s house the day before. I realized he had chosen a real estate deal over my wedding. I was angry and hurt, especially when a month later he attended a mutual friend’s wedding and made it a point to tell my family not to tell me he had attended. He never sent me a card congratulating me, never made a phone call…nothing. While I could have forgiven him missing my wedding, the fact that he never reached out to me, he virtually hid from me for 5 years after, hurt far worse. It’s an MO he had perfected. If he thought someone was upset with him, he’d go to the ends of the earth to avoid them. When he did that with me, it killed our relationship. Finally, we talked. He admitted his mistake and apologized, but we’re not the same anymore.

I’m not friends with Mary anymore, either. We had no falling out or anything, we just grew apart. She quit her job, so we no longer work together. I moved away and got married, quit drinking, became a mother. Our lives are just so different now. I tried to keep things going for a while, but, finally gave up. I realized our relationship had become like my high school friend’s and my adoptive brother’s relationship…totally incumbent upon me to keep it going. *I* was the only one to call. *I* was the only one to make plans. Granted, when I did call or extend an invitation, they happily accepted and we had a great time, but, after a while, it just hurt too much to invest more effort in the relationship than the other person was willing to give. I decided not to expend my energy on relationships with people who didn’t feel I was worth the same effort.

So now my phone barely rings. And when it does, I usually avoid it. I have people in my life that are the kind of people I should have always aspired to be friends with, but now I’m so jaded, so wary of being hurt, I avoid them.

I’ve become my (former) friend, Cat. She would confide in me from time to time and call me one of her dearest friends, but whenever I’d want us to hang out, she’d pull back. When we had a disagreement about something, she avoided me at the office for a month to avoid “the icky stuff”, i.e., anything messy. She grew up with a bi-polar father, who manipulated in much the same way as Joy, so Cat was averse to anything even remotely messy. You had to keep it light with her. That was fine, I could work with that, only she’d pull me in every once in a while and make me think she wanted more, then push me away again when it suited her. She was the worst porcupine I’ve ever seen. And now I’ve become her.

I know that if I want to make changes in my life, I have to overcome this. I have to open myself to people again. I think this blog is an attempt at that, but I know I have to do more. I have to seek out people, and be the kind of friend I (used to) want to have. I have to stop staying in my safe cocoon, alone, where no one can hurt me, because no one can love me here, either.

I need to kill the cynic, and instead temper a more loving, open person with just the right balance of skepticism, so as not to get sucked in. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk. Hope I’m up to it.

PS. I really hold no ill will towards any of these former friends, not even Almond Joy. Years after we worked together, we were able to meet once a month for lunch. She was able to acknowledge her harmful behavior, and we came to an understanding. Since she left the office, however, I hardly speak to her, which is fine, too. I recognize her destructive behavior was born of great personal pain, and I wish her peace and happiness.

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